Passing the Baton: Data-Driven Succession Planning and the New Liaison Role

My colleague Nora Wood, business librarian extraordinaire, and I are excited to be first time attendees to the Charleston Library Conference this year. We’re looking forward to a number of great talks and exhibits, and will be presenting a poster at 6PM on Thursday, November 3rd.

Stop by and say hello! We’ll be talking various strategies for new liaisons and department coordinators alike when it comes to making a seamless transition in supporting academic units on campus. Topics to be discussed include:

  • Capturing and utilizing meaningful public service statistics
  • Developing the “soft skills”of outreach and networking
  • Timely and effective succession planning for all liaison areas

We know that it’s not possible to see everything (it’s Halloween and we wish we had Hermione’s time-turner!); below is some of the content we’ll be providing:

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For the full poster content, click here

Have a great conference, and we hope to see you! Make sure to also catch Nora’s Lively Lunch discussion in collaboration with Melanie Griffin, Liaison Librarians in the Know: Methods for Discovering Faculty Research and Teaching Needs.


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Verbal Citations: Teaching “Authority”After the Debates

It’s fall again, which means that the PSL line backs into the service desk line, and requests from the Public Speaking classes I work with are pouring in. When I first put together learning objectives for this class, teaching citation format seemed like a hurdle. Now, I’m consistently in awe of the really on point responses I receive by having made the switch to teaching verbal citations.

Particularly after the buzz of first presidential debates last Monday, I believe many students are interested in the authenticity of the information they present. With a focus on presenting, it only makes sense to help students become comfortable with the often rhetorically awkward process of an in text citation spoken aloud during a speech. Purdue’s O.W.L has a great guide for the information required for each resource format; when guiding students in creating a verbal citation I ask them to give enough information so that their listening audience could Google and find the original source.

What I’ve found is that many of my classes that include a presentation assignment have benefited from this classroom activity, not only because it teaches some of the how when it comes to citation but, more importantly, the why. The activity goes: each group to locates a fact in a report (or statistical database, newspaper archive, CQ Researcher etc.), writes out a sentence or two with supporting citations, and then presents it to the class for critique (and enthusiastic applause):

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Another positive when teaching students to present their research aloud is that every student in the room gets to really hear the effectiveness of the citation, and to critically evaluate them as a group. Together we unpack authority as a construct, and I pose questions after each example such as “What did we like about this citation?” and “Did that really sound like a good source?” Another question I’ll ask is: “Do we as the audience have access to the info this group just cited?” Highlighting the paywall they’ve often permeated helps to engage students in a discussion of popular vs. scholarly materials.

Teaching two classes today, I decided to add a real life example of what can go wrong when a speaker neglects to properly cite their sources (or create authentic work in the first place). With an on screen analysis, this video perfectly captures why credibility can make or break a persuasive presentation, and and it was great to add closed captioning as well:

Do you teach verbal citations? I’d love to hear examples of practice!

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ALA 2016 Women and Gender Studies Section Social

If you’re headed to Orlando next weekend, please join us for the ACRL-WGSS social hour following the general meeting at Lafayette’s at The Pointe. Interested in learning more about the WGS section? Visit

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The American Freshman- 2014 Infographic

Happy 50th anniversary to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program’s Freshmen Survey!

As I have a few hundred undergrads camped outside my office this summer, last year’s data is going on my bulletin board. I believe that having at least relational data to help contextualize first year students is so important to who we are and what we do, even if your work doesn’t involve lower level students.

They’re here, they make up the bulk of our door statistics,  and like everything else they’re changing every year:


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Transliteracy Workshop: From Wikipedia to Academia

 I’m excited to be co-teaching my first USF workshop this week. The result of a partnership between my mentor and the First Year Success Institute (FSI), we’re looking at bridging the transition from exploratory, tertiary source material to optimized discovery utilizing our databases.
It’s the first full length workshop that I’ve created the content for and as a pilot I’m looking forward to collecting assessment data using Plickers. As a new tool, this should be an interesting experience. Next step: turn the presentation into chunked videos.
What are your thoughts on transliteracy?  Post in the comments! 

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Seeing San Francisco @ S.F ALA 2015 (Part II)

This post is a companion piece to an earlier post on how to attend SF ALA on a budget. As a Bay Area native, I lived in S.F (The City, but never “frisco”) for a couple years and would love to share some of the things that make it great. If you’re adventurous and on a budget, here’s one girl’s favorites for seeing San Francisco:

Map(click to enlarge)

In the area of the Moscone (Maw-SCO-knee) Center:

The Cartoon Art Museum

A wonderful little museum, featuring famous works you’re sure to recognize, and exhibitions like artwork from The Secret of Kells.

The Ferry Building

Like Chelsea Market in NYC, the Ferry Building offers a sampling of the city’s finest eats and shopping treats. On the water, it’s a lovely spot to enjoy watching commuters come across from Oakland. Take the historic F line trolly straight down from Market street for a neat way to see the financial district. And make sure you get a rose geranium meringue or gingerbread cupcake from Miette Patisserie. Mmmmm.

Coit Tower

If you’re looking for a hike to a historic view that won’t disappoint, then leave Fisherman’s Wharf to the tourists and take the amazing art stairs up to Coit Tower. The (expensive) ride up the elevator to the top always has a line, but it’s an amazing sight if you have the time for it. If not, here’s what it looks like:

Bourbon and Branch

As far as bars go, this one is not to be missed. Freshly made vintage cocktails, books on the walls, and yes, a speakeasy with a secret pass code in back called The Library. It’s off Union Square, so bring a friend and enjoy!

Goorin Bros. Hat Shop

I am a confirmed hat addict, so I had to put this one in! With locations around the city (including Haight St.) this midpriced shop has just the right mix of classic design and modern twist.

A little Farther Afield:

City Lights bookstore

This famous independent has been center stage for progressive politics and poetry since it opened in 1953. Pick up works by the Beat Generation and enjoy the awesome basement selection of anarchist children’s books.

The Kintetsu Mall in Japan Town

If you love authentic Japanese crepes, books, and culture in general this is a must-do! The Kabuki Springs spa is one of the city’s only hot tub spots, and it’s amazing.

The Legion of Honor- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Legion of Honor is both one of my favorite places in the world, and my old workplace. Small enough to do in two hours, this absolutely beautiful museum houses European and ancient collections in a stunning cliff side setting (yes, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge). It’s a trip to the other side (the OCEAN side) of the city, but %100 worth it. Bonus: the restaurant is a wonderful place for lunch.

The current exhibition, High Style, features textile collections from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.

Other places in California


If you get a chance to drive north across the Golden Gate bridge, you’ll find yourself in the north bay wine country. I grew up in Sonoma County, and can attest to the beautiful, if increasingly gentrified, setting.

Check out Glen Ellen for Jack London State Park, where London is buried (pic: Katherine Ahnberg)


Santa Cruz. Redwoods, beaches, hippies, and killer Mexican food. This is my home away from home (and alma mater up the hill at UCSC). Check out West Cliff Drive, Kelly’s Bakery, and the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery. This is a picture I took from Its Beach, home to the free Surfer Museum.

Ahh, now I’m homesick. Luckily, I’ll be seeing you all in a few short days! Have an questions or further suggestions? Leave me a comment.

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SF ALA on a Budget

norcal airportsI grew up in the Bay Area and lived in San Francisco proper for two years before leaving the west coast for library school. Four months into my first full time position, I can’t wait to represent my “hometown” at ALA! Yes San Francisco is extremely expensive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find great deals.

Take it from a local, here’s a few ways to do SF ALA on the cheap:

1. Fly into Oakland

You wouldn’t try to fly into Manhattan without checking LGA, right? Oakland is slowly becoming the Queens/Brooklyn of the Bay. My last minute flight across the country from Florida home to the Bay Area was $414 because I skipped out on SFO.

2. Get a $3 Clipper Card

Clipper cards are re-loadable cards that make hoping MUNI or BART a breeze. You can order in advance, or buy one at a corner Walgreens or other grocery store. It saves you from having to have exact change or hold on to tiny paper transfers; just make sure you tap out on your way off the bus.

3. Take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)


BART is fast, safe, and reliable. You can get from downtown Berkeley to Powell St. station (the closest stop to the Moscone Center) in 25 minutes, and it’s an even shorter trip from nearby cities like Daly City. The only downside is to BART is that it stops running at 12:30 AM.

4. Stay with Air BnB

If you haven’t made the leap to Air BnB yet, it’s high time you checked it out. I’ve used this service for two different conferences now, and have never been disappointed. Whether you rent out a private space with a group or just take up a room in someone’s house, Air BnB is inexpensive and centrally located, plus you get the added perks of contributing to the local economy while having a nice place to stay. My ACRL stay included a cedar lined outdoor sauna. No extra cost.


5. Cheap(er) Eats Around Moscone

$-$$ Mel’s Drive-In– Forget Denny’s, Mel’s is the consummate SF diner experience. Plus you get to experience a little bit of cinematic history.

$$ The Grove– Open till 11 o’clock, everyone pays separately and their cardamom ice cream is dreamy. For those of you coming from out of town, the sticker shock will be lower than chain restaurants, and you get to feel like a smug San Franciscan by eating local (and delicious!).

$$ Thirsty Bear– Get ready for Spanish tapas and big crowds at this local craft brewery.

Stay tuned for more tips on things to do in the area. Got any great money savers? Post in the comments. 

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Cutting Back on Jargon: Web Content Meets Usability Best Practices

We’re in the exciting process of revisiting the website at my library, a group endeavor that often involves examining the subtle nuances of interpretation and conjecture when it comes to what our endusers actually need. If only there were a set of best practices based in data from 51 different usability tests to settle when to use “find” over “browse.” Look no further, Cal’s John Kupersmith offers a great way to use “Library Terms That Users Understand.”


The data revealed by usability studies show some definite patterns. While these don’t resolve all ambiguities, they do point to some best practices in this area:

1. Test to see what users do and don’t understand, and what terms they most strongly relate to. Use test data from other libraries whose user populations resemble your own. Share your own data with others.

2. Avoid – or use with caution – terms that users often misunderstand. If you must use terms frequently cited as problematic in usability studies, such as acronyms, brand names, Catalog, or Database, expect that significant number of users will not interpret them correctly.

3. Use natural language equivalents on top-level pages, such as Borrowing from Other Libraries instead of Interlibrary Loan, or a Find Books option in addition to the library catalog name. Whenever possible, include “target words”, such as Book or Article, that correspond to the end product the user is seeking. When needed, introduce more precise technical terms on lowerlevel pages.

4. Enhance or explain potentially confusing terms. Use additional words and/or graphics to provide a meaningful context. Where appropriate, use mouseovers or tooltips — but don’t count on users pausing to read them. Provide glossaries of library terms, or “What’s this?” explanations of individual terms.

5. Provide intermediate pages when a top-level menu choice presents ambiguities that can’t be resolved in the space available. For example, have your Find Books link lead to a page offering the local catalog, system or consortium catalog, e-books, WorldCat, etc.

6. Provide alternative paths where users are likely to make predictable “wrong” choices. For example, put links to article databases in your online catalog and on your “Find Journals” page.

7. Be consistent to reduce cognitive dissonance and encourage learning through repetition. Use terms consistently throughout your website, and if possible in printed materials, signage, and the actual names of facilities and services.

Stay tuned for more semantic tales and grammatical grandeur.

Have a great resource for cutting down on content jargon? Share with the class. 

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Ten Research Tips for Freshman Success

With the close of spring semester around the bend, fall is feeling closer than ever. As tour groups come and go throughout the day, it’s a reminder that a freshly minted cohort of first year students will soon be joining our campus.

In planning for a summer intensive, I dug up one of my favorite resource; I wish every student had these committed to memory!

Originally published in “10 Tips for Doing Research Well at Harvard”

1. Accept the fact that you may need to be peripatetic

Your unlimited access to the Harvard Libraries comes with a very small price: our materials are spread around. And they’re spread further than just Lamont and Widener. Occasionally, your research may require you to cross the river to the Baker Business Library (for example) or head north toward the Law Library to check out materials there. Occasionally, you’ll need to wait 24 hours for an item in the Harvard Depository to arrive. We know how easy it is make your research decisions based on your proximity to their locations, but try to let the potential value of a source determine what you use instead.

2. Be comfortable moving between the world of print and the world of bits

Despite what you hear in the media, not all valuable information is online for the taking and that situation isn’t likely to change while you’re a student here. At one time or another, we’ve all had to struggle against the temptation to use only what’s available in full-text from a computer screen. As much as you can, resist making choices among sources based solely on the convenience of their format.

3. Understand research as a problem-solving process

Like writing and reading, good research is a thinking-intensive activity. Even though much of it might happen at a computer screen, it’s never, really, about being able to point and click. It’s all about brainwork: asking questions, reaching decision points, taking stock of what you find and moving on from there. Research might seem time-consuming at moments and frustrating once in a while, and you’re bound to hit some dead-ends. But it can and should also lead you to some deeply satisfying intellectual discovery. At its best, research can be a really pleasurable experience — a kind of mental play.

4. Try to imagine what “ideal” sources might let you do

Source discovery can happen in fits and starts during the course of a research project. That’s often because the kinds of information that are most helpful in the very early stages are different from those you might turn to once your ideas have taken shape in an outline or started to solidify in written form. When a shift in direction suddenly requires more research than you thought, or when your efforts at source discovery get snagged, try to verbalize what the “perfect source” might be: what sorts of information you’d want it to include, how you would use it, why it would help you push your research forward. Describe it to your course instructor or librarians and they may know exactly what you’re after. And even if your perfect source hasn’t (yet) been created, they can probably recommend something for you that’s reasonably close.

5. Ask yourself: who cares?

It sounds flippant, but the question is critical when you are trying to map routes to source discovery. To enter an academic conversation on an issue, you should first consider which groups of researchers are engaging with it – and with each other – in discussion or debate. Sociologists, public policy experts, legislators, and economists all study America’s working poor, for example, but they may come at it from slightly different perspectives and emphasize slightly different things. Once you’ve posed the question “Who’s talking about my topic?” you can go a step further and ask yourself “where?” A course guide, a librarian, a chat with an instructor or TF can help you figure out the research resources in which these conversations are being collected, codified, and stored.

6. Remember that good searching is really about language

Library catalogs, databases like those described in this toolkit, search engines like Google: the tools of research are by and large built of and fueled by words. Your success in discovering relevant sources will often hinge on how well and flexibly you can manipulate language to express an information need. So start with what’s easy. Enter the two, three, or four basic words that most nearly describe your topic and just see what the system turns up. But have a reserve vocabulary list at the ready, too. You may have to try several kinds of word combinations before you strike gold.

7. Resist the “grab and go” approach to research

When you see a title that looks promising in the HOLLIS catalog, you could take the obvious next step: write down the call number and be on your way. But a savvy researcher will look around his search results first. Embedded everywhere on the computer screen are clues to what else and what next: other good terms to use, links to related information, sometimes, a chance to preview the item’s contents, hints for how you might refine and modify.

8. Consider what a “minimum numbers of sources” may really mean

Often, assignments quantify sources for you, suggesting (or requiring) a number to use ( x books and/or y journals for example, or one source from perspective a and one from perspective b).  Most likely, that’s because your instructor wants you to have a research experience but also wants to be sure your own ideas and arguments don’t get lost amid other voices you’ll encounter. Source minimums are never an invitation to be random or slipshod in the choices you make. Your instructor can’t expect you to be exhaustive, but he or she will assume you’ll know to be selective.  So rather than quitting your research when you reach a magic number, try to generate more leads than you technically need.  That way, you have alternatives and can make good choices among them.  When you’re not sure what lies behind a source number requirement, however, make sure you ask before you begin.

9. Always pay attention

The best researchers learn to be very conscious of their actions at every step of the way and to learn from the success (and sometimes, the failure) of what they do. Keep track of your search process from beginning to end; make mental notes on what strategies work best, what patterns you find, what you begin to expect. Then transfer that knowledge into the next database you search or into the next research project you’re assigned. Your decision making processes can teach you a lot about yourself, too, if you develop this habit of reflection.

10. Remember that you have library lifelines at every step of the way.

If you‘ve learned to think about the library as a place to go (physically or virtually) to get some “stuff,” remember that the people behind the desks, behind the books, behind the scenes, and behind the websites are what make the library work. If you haven’t met a librarian in one of your first-year courses, ask your instructor, TF, a roommate, a friend for a recommendation. Stop by a reference desk in one of the Harvard Libraries in and around the Yard. Find librarians to contact based on their special subject expertise. We always want to help!

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Putting “Useless” Language Skills to Work

french-shark1Photo Credit

My French is not great. Despite three years with an amazing, inspirational French teacher in high school and a brief run at the language in undergrad and abroad, time has worn away the once crisp distinctions between declensions and tenses that once ruled my flashcard driven nightmares. So, when I started my first position out of library school, imagine my surprise when voila! Having a basic understanding of another language became a serious ally in assisting both students and faculty at my institution.

Having just finished maybe my third or fourth research consultation en francais (an extra special challenge, and fun!) I’ve learned that even a passing knowledge of le langue can go far towards locating the resources you need. With this in mind, I’ve set myself three guidelines for improving my public service in and out of my native language:

1. Relax! You probably know/remember more than you think you do.

2. Talk with the patron/professor in their language. You will feel foolish but, after you’ve established that you only know un petit, chances are they’ll be delighted to find someone willing to go the extra mile. Imagine having to research outside your language every day!

3. Bone up. There are a ton of great, free resources out there (not to mention those in your library). My favorites are:

And, if you aren’t already using it, the Google translate shortcut (type “translate” before your word or phrase for translation) if handy for those words you just can’t recall.

Bon Chance!

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